1169: Hessy Levinsons Taft
Jewish Woman Whose Baby Portrait was Used by the Nazis in Propaganda Work
Born: 17 May 1934, Berlin, Germany
Hessy’s parents were from Latvia but had moved to Germany a few years before Hessy was born. Her parents had dreams of being opera singers, but unfortunately once it was discovered that the couple were Jewish, they were shunned from the music industry.
In 1935, Hessy was an adorable little baby and her family decided to have her photo taken by a professional photographer. A few months later, the family housekeeper noticed Hessy’s picture on the cover of the popular German magazine “Sonne ins Haus.” Evidently, Hessy’s photo had been chosen out of a hundred baby pictures from all across Germany, that had been captured by professional photographers.
The best part though? The contest had been created by Joseph Goebbel’s Propaganda Wing of the Nazi government. The premise of the contest was to show the “ideal” Aryan German baby. That’s right—an adorable little Jewish girl was now being broadcast across Germany, and eventually as far away as Lithuania, as the perfect Aryan baby. The photographer who took her picture had known Hessy was Jewish. He submitted the photo anyway because he wanted to allow himself the pleasure of the joke.
Oh sweet sweet irony, how we love you so.
While it was great of the photographic to pull such a great joke on the Nazis, he unfortunately also left Hessy in danger. Her face was the most famous baby picture, arguably in all of Germany, and so her parents could no longer take her out of the apartment and out into public. If she had been recognized, and her Jewish ancestry came out, she would have been killed.
Hessy’s family moved to France in 1938, and in 1941 escaped France through various spots in Europe, eventually making their way to Cuba. Finally in 1949, the family settled for good in the United States, despite the fact they were committed Zionists.
Hessy married in 1959 and has two children and four grandchildren. She studied chemistry at Barnard College and is a part time Chemistry teacher at St. Johns University. While Hessy’s immediate family survived the war, unfortunately large parts of her extended family in Latvia were murdered during the Shoah.
Hessy donated her copy of the magazine “Sonne ins Haus” with her photo to Yad Vashem’s collection entitled “Gathering the Fragments” which has gathered over 120,000 items from the Nazi period, to showcase all aspects of Jewish life and how people survived that time.